“The Escape Artist” by Brad Meltzer
Grand Central Publishing, 2018, 416 pages
Leave it to Brad Meltzer to make characters of some of the most nondescript professions imaginable and turn them into action heroes.
In his latest thriller, “The Escape Artist,” Meltzer’s protagonist is an Army mortician. Meltzer’s best-known trilogy of thrillers is based on an archivist. All of his novels explore the most obscure nooks and crannies of government operations. They take you to places you didn’t know existed with professions no one has ever aspired to and reveal minutely colossal details that can change the world.
“The Escape Artist” is Meltzer’s 12th thriller (he has a line of children’s books, non-fiction books, and also writes comics). The story is about Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, a civilian mortician who works on the military’s most important cases at Dover Air Force Base. When a plane leaving a top-secret military base in Alaska crashes after takeoff, the bodies are sent to Dover. Among them is a young woman named Nola Brown. Nola is a childhood friend of Zig’s daughter and once saved her life.
When Zig opens the casket, he is quick to realize that the dead woman is not Nola. He also discovers a hastily written note to Nola inside the woman’s stomach. Zig quickly deduces that Nola is alive, on the run, and in great danger. He is determined to find her and to repay a huge debt to her. The more Zig digs into the case, however, the deeper and more tangled the mysteries become.
In typical Meltzer fashion, the story is multi layered and plays out with numerous characters with hidden agendas and loyalties that seem to turn with every twist of the plot. The story alternates between present day and Nola’s past, retelling her brutal childhood and her blossoming talent as an artist. Nola holds the distinguished position as the U.S. Army’s artist-in-residence. Shipped to some of the world’s ugliest hot spots to paint the horrors of war, she becomes as troublesome and unpredictable as the scenes she captures on canvas. But there’s more to her than that, much more.
There is also the layer of government agents who are covering up her supposed death while also hunting her down. Key high-level officials falsified her death and replaced hers with another body. Who and why? The answers spread to the highest levels of government and to some of the lowest. They also reach to history’s greatest escape artist – Harry Houdini.
If you enjoy thrillers, mysteries, documentaries, and histories, this book has them all and leads you on a nonstop, page-turning thrill ride that you just can’t put down.